The other side

Many of us have peered over the white picket fence and into the lives of others. We imagined those others to be normal. Or at least more normal than us. Families who resembled the fictious Cleavers or Nelsons and had a father who wore a cardigan. Or at least a father who wasn’t sexually abusive. And they didn’t have a mother who gave her five-year old LSD when she was acting “bratty” to “open her up”. Chocolate chip cookies may just have done the trick. That all being said, my sister and I had a colorful but dysfunctional childhood on the other side of that fence.

When my friend Henry and I met fourteen years ago, he referred to me as a soccer mom on LSD. Meaning I seemed pretty normal, but had an edge.  Whether he could see or feel it, I like that he acknowledged that edge that was keenly sharpened by my life on the other side.

I’ve come to believe that abnormal is the norm. Although there are couples who are still happily married after 40 years and adult children who vacation with both parents (originals and no subs or steps). And there are those who never will have to populate an imaginary “happy place” with a trusted person,  protector, or wise one as resources in therapy. Many of us are still a work in progress, and “dark and twisty,” to quote Meredith Grey.

We aren’t vanilla, or chocolate, but some mutt flavor that is uniquely ours.

My sister was adopted at birth by my step-father and his first wife.  We share a history and vital chapters of one another’s lives. The scars of the wounds of our inner child are interchangeable, although I used to think that mine were greater than hers. But one does not weigh in any greater than another. There is no measurement or gold medal for suffering. We both ended up very similar in our emotional development.

I don’t like to refer to her as my step-sister, which implies no shared blood, because our blood carries the epigenetics of siblings who grew up in the same house. We survived, for the most part, the same chaos. We were wired by the same dysfunctional electricians. Therefore, she is my sister. I love her with all of my being.

We alleviate oppressive sadness with the same morbid humor. We think we are incredibly funny. While walking through the camp at Bergen-Belsen, I turned to her and said “Do you think they have a gift shop?” That is how we roll. And there was a gift shop.

We have fine honed survival skills and know how to create a family consisting of dogs, a handful of blood relatives and close friends. We collect, cobble, and nurture relationships that pad our lives with foundation and meaning. We are determined and tenacious.  We try to maintain certainty that all will be, and is fucking okay. Maybe nobody wears a cardigan but we wouldn’t want them to, would we?

To all the outliers, all those who think they are not normal, I want to say, that you are. You really, really are.

And, my sister’s house has a white picket fence.

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